Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients
Commitment can be a scary word for some people because of the implications of what it means to commit. For many, commitment symbolizes loss, feelings of being trapped or controlled.
Committing to another person involves consideration of another person’s thoughts, feelings and needs which implies a loss of independence in activities and decision-making.
Ben loved his life, almost as much as he loved Gina. He loved sports, both watching and participating; music, he played in a jazz band; and time with the guys just hanging out.
Ben loved being with Gina as well. They were very compatible in so many ways. The only complaint that he had was that she seemed to want to restrict his time doing his own thing. Gina didn’t object to Ben’s regular Tuesday night band practices or his occasional weekend gigs. She did not object to his two baseball team commitments or season tickets with the guys during basketball season.
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Gina did ask Ben to commit to Saturday night dates and monthly dinners with her family. She also liked to join him for some of the game watching and many of his jazz band dates. There were times Ben did not want to do that and he hated having to, as he put it, “ask permission” to go without her.
Needless to say, Gina’s requests for promises and more time together caused Ben to feel more pressure and want to distance himself more from her and from the relationship.
Fear of commitment can involve many promises or life decisions. It can affect someone on issues as small as an agreement between friends to meet for coffee to as large a commitment as a decision about marriage.
There are many reasons why people fear commitment. Not all reasons are the same for everyone but I want to share with you some of the more common ones that I notice in my practice that specializes in relationships.
Loss of Independence
There are a lot of positive feelings associated with being in charge of your own life and not having to accommodate another person. For some, fear of giving up this ability to be in charge of their own time, space, money, friendships and decision-making can be scary.
So much of what would be required in a commitment may be unknown and the unknown, in and of itself, may cause some to back away or erect walls to stay away from commitment.
Ben, in the example above, worries about how commitment will affect his own independence. This is a factor for many who struggle with commitment issues.
Fear of Intimacy
Those who fear intimacy are afraid of letting anyone get to know them very well. They find themselves unable to share their personal thoughts and feelings and keep relationships at a distance. While those with a fear of intimacy may agree to marry, they will have difficulty truly committing. Their guard always seems to be up.
For some with fear of intimacy issues, this also includes sexuality. There may be a fear of learning more about their own sexuality or shame and embarrassment over sharing their bodies with another.
Sandy’s complaint about Sharon was that she never really felt like she knew her. There were times when she really needed for her to be there emotionally for her … and she was not. When her mother died, Sharon did all of the right things but showed very little emotion and expected Sandy to be back on track within a week.
Sharon’s dad was an alcoholic and very volatile. Sharon’s growing up years were colored by her father’s anger and Sharon learned that emotions could not be trusted. She was afraid to let her emotions come to the surface. She learned very early in her life that recognizing feelings usually led to painful results.
Not Feeling Good Enough
Many people grow up without a lot of positive experiences from significant people in their lives. They may feel unimportant, struggle with self-esteem issues or worry that they are not good enough to hold on to any partner. To keep from being rejected, they steel themselves from any long-term commitments.
Being afraid of intimacy and not feeling good enough are both factors in trust issues. Sometimes the trust is about the individual … believing that his or her good efforts are just not good enough. At other times, it is about the other person, believing that they will not see them as good enough to hang around in their lives.
Fear of rejection may cause people to always be looking for someone who is perfect for them. Of course, no one is ever perfect and, consequently, they never stay with anyone long enough to really develop a relationship.
There may also be the belief that any relationship will end and so there is no need to invest in a relationship when it is destined not to work out. Others may choose inappropriate or unavailable partners so that the relationship does not have a chance of working.
Brittany was good at beginning relationships, and also quite good at ending them. She recognized that she often dismissed men in her life very quickly and, while she told her friends that she is extremely “picky”, she worried that she really never gave anyone a chance and wondered if she maybe let go of some good potential mates.
Ed was described by many of his friends as every woman’s best friend and no ones’ boyfriend. He was never able to take the step in a relationship to take it to a romantic stage even though he wanted that very much.
Commitment requires letting go of feelings and thoughts of fear. It involves taking personal relationships without knowing results. It involves being open and available for love and connection.
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